How are you thinking about returning to the office vs WFH? Here’s an internal memo putting returning to the office in context for entrepreneurs running smaller businesses with observations on human nature.

hello Team,

Last week on the monthly catch up, I gave a very brief update and put the last Work from Home (WFH) poll/survey into context. Since I presume not everyone was on the video call, thus, in the spirit of everyone having the same access to the same information… I am just capturing what I said and giving an update.

We’ve Come a Long Way!

If you recall, at the onset of the pandemic, we were “ahead” of other companies to move everyone to WFH. I wrote then that until there was a vaccine, we would not see a return to normal

More than a year later, here are my thoughts now on our reality and where we’re at:

– unlike other companies who have 5-10 year leases for hundreds of thousands of square feet, we are “fortunate” to have had annual leases that were not bruising to maintain. 

– that flexibility blessing is a bit of a curse, meaning unlike other firms who can punt on making any decisions, we had five leases come up for annual renewals. In the past year, this means that every 2.5 months a lease comes up. 

Change is Good

To be frank, in 2015 when we polled the company re our “ideal office,” many on the team essentially described our existing office – so we not only stayed put but expanded by taking up the whole floor, as well as other spaces nearby. Today, the team has evolved & your realities may have changed, it was unclear what you all thought of our office & area, so we felt that after an awesome 15-year run in the building & neighborhood, the pandemic gave us a chance to find a new home… eventually, by giving us an opportunity for a seamless, less painful move. 

Thus, one by one, as the leases came up, we began to streamline our footprint. More recently, the time came to renew or let go the main working areas and as such, I wanted to ask “point blank” if people’s preference was to work from home or at an office, before making any decision.

Thank you, Captain Obvious

All factors being equal, human beings will tend to pick “hybrid” work setup if that was an option. Indeed, a Microsoft survey of 30,000 workers found 73% want flexible remote options. Whenever we did similar polls in the past, about 70% of our approximate fifty (50) full-time employees picked such a model, as well. In the most recent poll, just under 60% favored working from home. FWIW, Microsoft is already allowing some workers back.

From a recent article (found via the April 1 Morning Brew newsletter): Some execs aren’t convinced full-time remote work is better for the employee or the business. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has warned it causes burnout, and incoming Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said that with WFH, “You just don’t riff the same way,” which hurts innovation. Plus, there are social effects to consider. “

Term of New Lease

We had a unique setup but looking ahead, we would likely move to a building that would require entering into a 5-year (at least) lease. 

Rushing to get an office for approx. 25 people is also not logical, because I don’t think everyone will feel the same way about WFH or WFO (working from office) in 2 years. Imagine the paradox and irony of us trying to accommodate people’s wishes to retain our best talent, only to lose people because in 2 years some have a change of heart and want a place to work! And, I assure you, your thoughts and feelings may change.

Companies that have 100,000 square feet and are locked into 5-10 year leases can allow themselves to say “ok, people can come and go,” but in our case, we probably will not be able to justify getting an office for 50 people for 25 people (that would feel a bit depressing, frankly, and force us to forego things the 25 people on-site want for the possibility to appease the 25 who today say they rather WFH but may have a change of heart in 2-3 years). 

I am proud to see the execs all demonstrate a compassionate management style, but we need to be realistic and careful with real estate expenditures, as those are fixed and hard to get out of. 

Thus, for the sake of “reading the room,” we sent a quick poll to see IF

– you had to choose, and 

– the choice was yours, 

would you prefer to work from home vs office. this was helpful to get a sense of everyone’s thinking. 

Right now, just under 60% preferred to WFH – not surprisingly. As a result of that, we decided not to rush into making any decision, and simply continue to streamline our footprint as we look for our next headquarters!

Industry: Return to Office

On the one hand, in the USA (where vaccinations are moving ahead swiftly), most large companies are now starting to encourage/suggest/require/demand that staff work at the office full-time. In the last week… (again, via Morning Brew):

  • Google said it’s moving up reopening plans and allowing workers to return in a limited capacity this month. 
  • Goldman Sachs told summer interns they’re headed to TriBeCa.
  • Wells Fargo told employees it’s eyeing a return after Labor Day.
  • Amazon said it’s bringing Seattle HQ employees back in time for sweater weather. 

Reality of Our Unique Workflow

On the other hand, while anecdotal and helpful to ascertain trends, I do not think those cases are all that pertinent to our reality.

As our employees’ workflow isn’t as simple as working with a laptop from anywhere with a WiFi connection, we have a very unique reality and set of needs. 

From what I hear from the execs, ultimately, some people will have proven themselves to be capable of working from home, and can be trusted by their teammates to maintain our excellent quality of work while others may need to be in an office to be effective. The good news is you are in more control of your destiny than at other companies!

So while we don’t have any firm and final updates, for the time being, we will likely continue the WFH formation until Canada is more vaccinated… and as the summer turns to fall… we may continue to poll the office – with the caveat that the final decision will remain the company’s to ensure a healthy and successful operation… but as always, our main priority is your physical & mental well-being… though over time I assure you that will also mean recognizing human beings being social creatures, whom with the passage of time (and vaccines 🙂 yearn a return to a social environment. If we have had success as an organization, it’s because we always focus on humanities & social sciences more than business theory. I encourage you to talk and speak up – to me, to your reporting manager… via the Town Hall form to ensure that you communicate your concerns, thoughts, suggestions.

The Main Message

Overall, I want to once again credit the team and management for working admirably from home, doing an amazing job under what are clearly surreal times. So props & shout out to all. 

For me, on a personal note, it’s a privilege and blessing to know that my team is working from the friendly and safe confines of their homes, especially compared to those who work on the front lines, let alone those affected in certain industries or who have lost loved ones. I would hate to be an employer who was constantly worried about irate clients berating an employee, or an employee falling sick due to the work conditions… 

To conclude, this is more of a “no news to report” and simply that we continue to look at all options to ensure that we make the optimal decision.

Thank you for reading this message.